New service platforms for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) booster engines arrived recently at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, marking another milestone in the ongoing post-shuttle era transition for the spaceport. The platforms were brought in on two flatbed trucks, then offloaded and stored inside the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), where the SLS and Orion spacecraft will come together for launch.
The platforms will be used for processing and checkout of the engines for the SLS’ twin five-segment solid rocket boosters for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The boosters, in combination with the rocket’s four RS-25 engines, will produce more than 8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.
Developed and manufactured by Orbital ATK, the 154-foot-long boosters are the largest of their kind in the world, and will burn for the same amount of time as the old space shuttle boosters—two minutes—but they will provide 20 percent more power, while also providing more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for the skyscraper-size, 300-plus-foot-tall SLS to escape the Earth’s gravity.
Five of the fully developed boosters have been fired up on Orbital ATK’s Promontory, Utah, T-97 test stand since 2009, with the most recent being the Qualification Motor-2 test fire (QM-2) in late June 2016. Prior was QM-1 (March 2015). The first three tests, known as the Development Motor test series (DM-1, DM-2, and DM-3), helped engineers measure the new SRB’s performance at low temperature, verify design requirements of new materials in the motor joints, and gather performance data about upgrades made to the booster since the space shuttle program.
The first SLS mission, EM-1, is scheduled to launch in early 2019, to put an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a shakedown flight to the Moon and back to prove it all works as designed, before NASA will put crews of up to four onboard starting in 2021 (at the earliest).
The final of 10 giant steel work platforms to support operations to process the SLS and Orion for launch in the VAB was installed earlier this year too.
When launched, the SLS (in its initial “block 1” configuration) will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equivalent to more than 160,000 Corvette engines; 15 percent more thrust at launch than the Saturn V rockets that sent men to the Moon.
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